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Fig. 5: Bott Bros. had enough spittoons — and probably excelled in the toilet department.

the 17 percent who went to poolrooms but didn’t play were up to. The study provided the answer to that one also — they seem to have been “fritter’n.” For a full week the teams observed the poolrooms. Their findings are summarized in Fig. 7. “Loafing” was common activity among the boys — how little things have changed in 94 years. The boys were asked to make suggestions on how conditions in poolrooms could be improved. This resulted in 69 separate ideas, many of which were repeated by a large number of respondents. The most common request was to prohibit profanity, which was requested by 138 students. The boys themselves seem not to have been greatly troubled by the toilet conditions — only 21 asked for better sanitation. One pupil, whose thoughts may not have been confined to billiards, proposed that the rooms would be much better if they had “lady proprietors.” Not everyone got with the program. About 4 percent thought that poolrooms should be eliminated completely. It wasn’t reported how many of these didn’t know how to play, but the suspicion is that the proportion was high. On the brighter side, five students felt that Columbus didn’t have enough poolrooms, an incredible complaint given the city’s huge number. Maybe these guys didn’t live close enough to a room to patronize it. Apparently the school boys didn’t encounter any difficulty in learning how to play. Only two students suggested that instruction should be provided. The researchers spent considerable effort to determine where and at what age the boys took up the game. Fig. 8 shows a bar chart indicating the ages at which the boys started playing. The re-

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port notes that “14, 15, 16 are the ages at when the ‘craze for pool’ is strongest.” It offers an interesting explanation for this phenomenon: “Fourteen years is recognized by anthropologists to be the year of greatest body growth for the boy, after which the rate of increase rapidly decreases from year to year. Before 14 we would, therefore, expect a game requiring the cruder motor adjustments and the use of the larger muscles to be the most popular game with boys. So we find everywhere that the small boy takes to baseball. After 14 years, with the increasing rate of body growth, we

come to the physiological period favorable to the development of the finer coordinations of hand and eye. … There is no game that involves such delicate, precise, accurate coordination of hand and eye as billiards.” The team also looked at where the boys learned to play. According to Fig. 9, the most common classroom was the poolhall, followed by a friend’s house. More than twice as many kids learned the game at someone else’s house rather than their own. This makes sense if not everyone has a pool table at home. The lucky boy who had one could host multiple friends, which accounts for the statistic. Four boys took up pool in church, which sounds like an impossibility given the general attitude of the clergy toward the game. At some point, though, it was believed better to attract the boys to a church basement where they could be watched rather than a poolhall, so churches began to buy pool tables. The Columbus study was a serious work that earned respect in academic circles because it emphasized data over theory. It was under the general direction of Ernest W. Burgess, a 30-year-old

Fig. 6: The Columbus study made use of stick-figure diagrams.

Fig. 7: The report analyzed boys’ pool room habits.

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December 2010  

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